"The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations" — Separate and Forgotten?

On July 10, 2000, President Bush gave a speech to the NAACP in which he said:
 
“Several months ago I visited Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, where African-Americans confronted injustice and white Americans confronted their conscience. In 43 years, we have come so far in opening the doors of our schools. But today we have a challenge of our own. While all can enter our schools, many—too many, are not learning there.”
 
Today, his words are still true.  According to a recent article in The U.S. News and World Report, “The achievement gap between white students and black students has barely narrowed over the last 50 years,” and “the average black student scores at just the 22nd percentile” in reading.

When researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education recently examined more than 200 million test scores, they confirmed this, noting that “nearly all U.S. school districts with substantial minority populations have large achievement gaps between their white and black and white and Hispanic students.”

 
From this it seems obvious that President Bush was correct when he said, “Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. . . Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten.”
 
President Bush called this new form of racial bias “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
 
Do you agree?
 
In his speech President Bush mentioned that W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) warned: “Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy America.”
 
How are we doing?
 
President Bush continued his speech by talking about his friend Phyllis Hunter, who called reading “the new civil right.” Agreeing, Bush added, “No child in America should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy, abandoned to frustration and the darkness of self-doubt.”
 
Too many still are.
 
Too many children are labeled “at-risk” of reading failure yet not given the tools they need to prevent that failure. Are our teachers to blame? No. They’ve been robbed.
 
Preventing and addressing reading failure requires extensive content knowledge, but most teachers graduate from their colleges of education without having been taught the content knowledge they need to help all children succeed. When our teachers are robbed in this way, when they don’t have specialist knowledge about the structure of English words and sentences, how can they give it to kids?
 
“Every child can learn,” insisted President Bush.
 
Yes. Most reading failure is unnecessary. The research has repeatedly proven that when given effective instruction, virtually all children can learn. When they are given correct and complete information about the structure of English words and sentences, for example, they can read fluently and independently. And when they can read fluently and independently, they can become proficient readers.
 
But too many of our colleges of education “fail to foster expertise in teachers at both preservice and inservice levels.” Too many fail to give teachers the expert knowledge about English that all children need. They pretend that highly effective teaching does not require content knowledge.
 
The Riggs Institute, a nonprofit literacy agency, was founded to address these problem. They provide teachers with the specialist knowledge they weren’t given in their colleges of education. It’s the knowledge that is needed if one is to explicitly teach decoding skills to all children. It’s the knowledge children need to become independent learners. 
 
 
They are not stuck in the prison of illiteracy, because they’ve been given the skills they need to get out of it. And they’ve been given “the confidence and faith to achieve their own dreams.”
 
Since it is not possible to get a good education without being literate, and since people who are not literate suffer unnecessarily, isn’t President Bush correct? What good does it do to have unsegregated schools if our children don’t learn in them?
 
The early teaching of essential coding skills prevents reading failure. That’s been proven. But too many children aren’t getting these skills. And too often this is due to an implicit belief that some children aren’t ready—or capable—of learning them.
 
Isn’t this discrimination?
 
All children can learn. And all teachers can learn how to teach them. Let’s raise our expectations in both of these areas. Let’s work together to lift everyone up. We’re Americans! Why can’t we make our elementary schools the greatest in the world? Why can’t we teach beginners the elements of English? Let us destroy ignorance so that ignorance does not destroy America.
 
 
Let's get rid of the soft bigotry of low expectations.
 

by Stephanie Ruston

 

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